My apologies to Carbon Sciences for putting this interview post very, very late. However, this could be a good timing given that price of gasoline is once again within the $4/gal range.
Carbon Sciences, a California-based public company, is developing drop-in gasoline using carbon dioxide and methane gas as feedstock. The company’s intellectual property (IP) is centered on its methane dry reforming catalyst based on inexpensive non-noble metals. These catalysts according to Carbon Sciences CEO Byron Elton, are now going through rigorous commercial testing to meet the needs of the oil and gas industry.
Now, I am not that familiar with Carbon Sciences but I did recall talking to former CEO Derek McLeish in late December 2008 about their project of using recycled CO2 to produce precipitated calcium carbonate. The company back then has also been using biocatalysts. Elton noted that the calcium carbonate project has been shelved for now as the company now focuses on producing gasoline from natural gas since the US has plenty of that feedstock lying around. Elton joined the company in January 2009.
Carbon Sciences also started using chemical catalysts early last year in favor of biocatalysts since they are hardier, lasts longer and can withstand impure feedstock and water, said Elton. While the company still owns IP on biocatalyts, the use of chemical catalysts will lead to a quicker route towards commercialization.
“We still have great hopes and long term plans to return to the biocatalytic technology but it is not actively pursued right now.” – Byron Elton.
Chemical catalysts are also readily available and inexpensive, said Elton. In December the company had an exclusinve licensing deal with the University of Saskatchewan (UOS) in Canada, which Elton said, directly complements their development in the efficient conversion of CO2 and methane into synthesis gas. Previous attempts in producing gasoline from syngas produce challenges such as fouling of the catalyst with carbon deposits, and the need for pure carbon dioxide (especially if they want to use flue gas) and water.
The UOS catalyst, according to Carbon Sciences achieved 92% conversion with no detectable sintering, no significant carbon deposition, and no catalyst deactivation.Their catalysts also have self-cleaning process, said Elton, which makes them last longer.
Unlike current gas-to-liquid (GTL) processes, Carbon Sciences said their technology will have lower capital costs and processing costs because it uses carbon dioxide as feedstock; it’s not as energy intensive compared to those who are using oxygen for their GTL process; and their technology also does not produce significant amount of carbon dioxide (since they’re using it for feedstock as well).
Since the company’s product is still on a lab-scale, Elton said they will not yet be able to assess estimated value for their gasoline although he did noted through their internal model that it will be competitive to commercial gasoline available especially if they are north of $3/gal.
The company plans to soon move into pilot scale when it receives go-ahead signal from their scientific advisors, said Elton.
“Our internal goal, by the end of June, is where will be able to have all the data necessary so we can be in a position to be able to present to anybody what we have been able to do with confidence,” said Elton. “Our main focus is to develop the technology to the point that we can definitely demonstrate that it works, that it is scalable and that it is worth the next significant investment.”
Carbon Sciences has recently engaged with Emerging Fuels Technology (EFT) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to test their catalyst in a commercial facility using protocols required by the oil and gas industry. Elton said they have already received numerous inquiries interested in the commercial use of their catalyst and that the plan is to select one or more commercial development partners by the end of the year.
The company’s strategy is to license their catalyst technology to partners.